The fantastical Coney Island Mermaid Parade is making its return on June 18, and the march of underwater creatures’ chief organizer said it will be the economic boost the nabe’s small businesses need after two pandemic years.
Organizers expect a sizable crowd after the nautical-themed street festival was canceled in 2019, brought online in 2020 and canceled again in 2021.
“This is one of the biggest events for the community and something that has been desperately really missing from the calendar of events, so I know that the businesses are really excited to have a coming back this year and really anticipating a large crowd,” Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of The Alliance for Coney Island, told Brooklyn Paper.
An a new parade route will “encourage people to explore more,” she said.
Biz owners eagerly await return of Coney Island’s tourists
Likewise, Coney Island USA’s artistic director Adam Rinn hopes people will venture out on the island to get a feel of what the neighborhood is like, as the People’s Playground continues to bounce back from the pandemic, which financially devastated much of Coney’s amusement district.
“We really want to encourage our visitors to Coney Island to patronize all of the shops,” Rinn said. “So spend some time, go off the strip, go onto Mermaid Avenue, get off a stop early and really shop our neighborhood. Buy your sandwiches at the local mom-and-pop shop, buy your drinks at the local bodega. Show some love to the neighborhood.”
Randy Peers, head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, the borough’s business-boosting arm, said the longstanding parades in local communities — like the People’s Playground’s prolific Mermaid Parade — have a track record of impacting businesses positively.
“Let’s look at some of the events in Bay Ridge along Third Avenue — the Ragamuffin Parade and the Summer Strolls and things of that nature — another good example of how events, especially once they develop a track record over time, really do become a draw,” Peers said.
The key, though, he said, is having an element that draws visitors from “beyond the immediate community,” who in turn spend their money at the neighborhood’s businesses.
“The Mermaid Parade brings literally thousands of people who don’t live in Coney Island to Coney Island,” Peers said. “In some cases tourists — that is the ultimate. If you can get tourists to spend dollars in your commercial area because they were brought there by an event, even better. I think for the most part in general these events spur commerce.”
Peers told Brooklyn Paper many of these businesses’ futures aren’t certain, with some still paying back rent or possibly facing evictions and larger problems like labor shortages and supply chain issues still persisting.
But businesses have more opportunities now than ever, he added, especially considering the Open Streets program, which regularly closes down select streets to allow for expanded pedestrian access, across the borough.
“Open Streets has been a game-changer in that a consistent closing of the streets for commerce has been a big boom to business,” Peers said. “Across the board, Open Streets has been a very very big success, it was probably the single most important thing we did right during the pandemic.”
On June 18, much of the Brooklyn peninsula will mirror such a street, and with thousands of people visiting, merchants and vendors alike are predicting a rise in sales.
“As the owner of a small, independent business, the parade offers me increased visibility and the chance to meet new clients who are interested in purchasing from my wide array of face and head coverings — crucial now, more than ever, as the pandemic persists,” said Marge, owner of madewithlovebymarge, a small business that makes custom mugs, T-shirts, and other items. “The event planners also offer booths for local businesses to advertise and sell their services, helping all of us connect with one another. And because I helped to decorate the trophies for the event, I’ll get to introduce myself and my work to other creatives, artists, and performers.”
Courtney N. Gamble of MessQueen — a Brooklyn-based pop-up shop that specializes in wild patterned Spandex — said Saturday will be her first time vending at the Mermaid Parade. She hopes her creations will fit right in, as she said they’re of the same aesthetic.
“The clothing I make is very mermaid-y with very wild and fun patterns,” Gamble told Brooklyn Paper, adding that, while she isn’t sure what to expect in terms of sales, she knows one thing for sure: she’ll be busy.
The return of the Mermaid Parade and some normalcy
One business owner said he looks forward to visitors returning to the neighborhood and a feeling of excitement in the air now that the city and Coney Island are returning to normal.
“We love the people, we love the parade. We like every event, the event is happiness,” said Haim Haddad, owner of the Coney Island Beach Shop. “People enjoy, people have a good time. If you say the Mermaid Parade, of course, everybody is welcome!”
The Mermaid Parade will kick off at 1 p.m. near the corner of West 21st and Surf Avenue. From there, it will roll east to West 10th Street, where marchers and push pull floats will take the Boardwalk to Steeplechase Plaza.
Singer-songwriter Mx Justin Vivian Bond will serve as this year’s Queen Mermaid alongside King Neptune, the city’s former health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.
This year’s showing, though expected to be massive, may lack some spirit: Coney Island USA recently fired its founder and artistic director Dick Zigun, known as the unofficial mayor of Coney Island, claiming it was the result of a years-long issue on who will succeed him when he retires. It is unclear if he will participate this year.